Experts race to protect our future cars from hackers image

The automotive industry is all about car-to-car communication, mobile Internet access and even self-driving technology today. With the advent of the car-as-intelligent-as-computer era, there are also rising threats.

We all know about the stories of hackers that entered FBI’s US website or commandeered a satellite in outer space – many done out of fun or to prove a hacker’s worth. But how about cyber terrorists – that steal billions from bank computer networks or try to derail a train into a highly populated station? That kind of practices could one day translate to the automotive industry – from the fun/prank types to the life threatening.

“It’s a relatively low risk today,” says Karl Heimer, the senior research director at the Battelle Center for Advanced Vehicle Environments. But there’s much technology in cars today, “some of it known to be vulnerable. You will see an increase in attacks,” Heimer forecasts.

While the era of connected vehicles is highly sought because of the numerous advantages it has to offer – from reduced probability of accidents to increased fuel efficiency, it also represents a big opportunity for “the bad guys.” For example, the US Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security has demonstrated how a car can be hijacked through its OBD-II diagnostics port. Others have shown how digital signals from the access key can be reproduced.